STANDING ON GUARD

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Midsomer Murders: Set 19

Release Year:      2009 – 2010

Studio:      Acorn Media

Format:      Colour; NTSC; Boxed set; Widescreen

Rated:      Not Rated

# of Discs/Episodes:      4 / 4

Running Time:      400 minutes

DVD Release Date:      February 28, 2012

Creators:      Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham

Actors:      John Nettles; Jason Hughes; Jane Wymark

DVD Features:      Behind-the-scenes photo gallery for “Blood on the Saddle”; SDH subtitles

E:Top Picks Rating:      9/10

Acorn Media Write-up:       The cozy villages of Midsomer County reveal their most sinister secrets in these contemporary British television mysteries. Inspired by the novels of Caroline Graham, modern master of the English village mystery, the series stars John Nettles as the unflappable Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, with Jason Hughes (“This Life”) as his earnest, efficient protégé, Detective Sergeant Ben Jones. Guest stars include James Wilby (“Lady Chatterley”, “Maurice”, “Gosford Park”), Saskia Reeves (“Butterfly Kiss”), Janet Suzman (“Trial & Retribution”), Kenneth Cranham (“Layer Cake”, “Merlin”), Tim McInnerny (“Notting Hill”), David Rintoul (“Ghost Writer”; “My Week with Marilyn”), and featuring Neil Dudgeon (“Son of Rambow”, “Life of Riley”) in his first appearance as DCI John Barnaby.

The Mysteries: “The Made-to-Measure Murders” – A widow is murdered on her way to confession. “The Sword of Guillaume” – Barnaby travels to Brighton to investigate a land deal. “Blood on the Saddle” – A dispute over property lines turns a Wild West show into a crime scene. “The Silent Land” – A librarian obsessed with March Magna’s cemetery is found dead on top of a grave.

MIDSOMER MURDERS premiered in the United Kingdom in March 1997. Since then, nearly ninety feature-length episodes have aired with new episodes still in production. In the US, the series has been seen on A&E and The Biography Channel, however the episodes in SET 19 are the first part of Series 13 (2009 – 2010), which never broadcast in the US.

Acorn Media previously released Sets 1 – 18 with three to five mysteries per set as well as three collector’s sets (“The Early Cases Collection”, “Barnaby’s Casebook”, and “Village Case Files”) Each set ranked in Acorn’s top 10 best-sellers for its year and sales of each new set consistently gain momentum.

Jon Ted Wynne Review:       When actor John Nettles was first offered the starring role in MIDSOMER MURDERS, little did he know that the show’s popularity and longevity would out-do his previous foray into the police show genre, “Bergerac”. (“Bergerac”, by the way, would be a most welcome addition to the Acorn Media library, hint hint). “Bergerac” lasted ten seasons, while MIDSOMER MURDERS with John Nettles as star, lasted from 1997 to 2011 (81 episodes). It’s still in production, of course, with Neil Dudgeon as cousin John Barnaby now running the show.

And so here we are with SET 19 of our beloved MIDSOMERS, preparing to say goodbye to dear old Tom Barnaby as he contemplates retirement. Four more adventures, including the introduction of John Barnaby, comprise SET 19. More clever writing, outstanding supporting casts and high production values ensure there is life in the old show yet. It will take some time to adapt to Nettles being gone from the show, although we still have SET 20 coming up which will give us his final four mysteries, so the end isn’t quite upon us yet. (There is something to be said for lagging behind the UK in terms of availability of episodes–they are already well into Neil Dudgeon’s tenure as the lead).

MIDSOMER MURDERS is unabashedly formulaic. It eschews the fast-paced, kinetic cutting of many more “edgy” police dramas. Its leisurely pacing suits the rural, even rustic locations in fictional Midsomer (a series of seemingly idyllic and innocent country villages). There is much to reinforce the traditional English village atmosphere with eccentrics in abundance, quirky county fairs and people of means versus the rest of us in a typical representation of the English class system.

Recently, the producer of MIDSOMER MURDERS, Brian True-May, got into trouble by explaining the lack of ethnic diversity on the show because of its emphasis on traditional, old-fashioned Britishness, by which he meant that there was a time when small English villages were entirely inhabited by white people. Some were offended by this comment and True-May was taken to task and is, apparently, stepping down as producer. Whether this will be the death knell for the series remains to be seen. Adjusting to John Nettles departure is already a shock. If, as John Nettles has said in interviews, the quality of MM is predominantly due to the fastidiousness of Brian True-May’s abilities as a producer, there may be trouble brewing. We shall see. All this to say, enjoy these wonderful programs while you can.

For this reviewer there is actually a more disturbing trend emanating from Midsomer, in fact from British productions in general, and that is an alarming anti-Christian prejudice that is as blatant as it is belligerent. In the case of MIDSOMER MURDERS, it has got to the point where if a person wears a clerical collar or professes to be one of the faithful, they are most certainly likely to be the murderer, or at least a nasty red herring! Apart from being predictable, this is a clear departure from the “traditional Englishness” that producer True-May cites as the reason for ethnic sameness on the show. Particularly evident of this trend to dismiss Christians as fanatics is the episode “The Made-to-Measure Murders”, one of the four featured episodes in Set 19. Even with an actor as outstanding as James Wilby guest-starring, this plot device has become a tired cliche. Of course one might argue that the central premise of MIDSOMER MURDERS is that under the layer of respectability is the very worst human behaviour, but when it means that people of faith (specifically Christianity) are evil by default, my patience runs thin.

However this is my only beef with an otherwise wonderful series. MIDSOMER MURDERS remains popular and in production for a reason. It’s a great show. And hopefully Neil Dudgeon can fill the very big brown shoes of John Nettles.

Wisely, Jason Hughes (as Barnaby’s side-kick, DS Ben Jones) carries over into the new episodes. He has grown nicely into the role alongside Barnaby, even to the point of making it hard to remember Daniel Casey as Sgt Troy, way back when.

There is much to love here, even if there is cause for criticism. May Tom Barnaby enjoy a very happy, long and healthy retirement.

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